Thursday, August 08, 2019 1:00 am
No 'loophole' in Indiana, but change could hurt
The federal government is accepting public input until Sept. 23 on the proposal to place new limits on SNAP eligibility. To comment, go to:
Soon, Rob Undersander may no longer be eligible to receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But don't worry. Undersander won't starve. A retired Minnesotan, he is a millionaire who applied for and received SNAP benefits to expose an eligibility loophole.
Last month, citing Undersander's case and implying that other millionaires might also be taking advantage of the system, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Brandon Lipps, an acting deputy undersecretary, unveiled a plan to tighten SNAP eligibility rules they said would save taxpayers $2.5 billion a year.
One problem: the Agriculture Department estimates the change would remove 3.1 million people from the food stamp program if it goes into effect this fall. Most of them, it's safe to say, would be food-insecure – so poor they may not know where their next meal is coming from. Some who might be able to requalify for food assistance might be unaware of their options or unable to cope with the paperwork.
No one yet has a reliable estimate of how many Hoosiers would be affected by the proposed tightening of SNAP rules. As of June, there were 552,203 SNAP recipients in the state, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which administers the program.
“We are gathering data to determine how many Indiana SNAP recipients would be impacted if this rule would pass,” the agency said in its only official comment on the question.
But it's likely many thousands of those in need would suffer. “It's going to make people eligible for SNAP no longer eligible, and it also will affect the free-and-reduced-price lunch program for kids,” Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry, said Wednesday.
Wealthy freeloaders would hit a brick wall in this state.
“In Indiana, I would guess there are no millionaires that are receiving SNAP benefits, because they have to report their assets,” said Bryant, whose organization represents 11 food banks in the state, including Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana.
In Minnesota, there is no asset-test rule, she said, which explains how Undersander was able to qualify for benefits. “He had little or no income,” she said, “but he had millions of dollars in assets. In Indiana, we have an asset test.”
Nestled in the thicket of current SNAP regulations is something called the Broad-Based Categorically Eligible policy, which allows states some flexibility in how they run the program. “It's not a loophole,” Bryant explained. “It was meant as a streamlining process. It allows states to have options.”
In some states, the rule is used to automatically qualify those who receive other types of poverty relief for SNAP. Indiana has used the “broad-based” rule more narrowly – to increase the level of assets food stamp recipients are allowed to own, from $2,250 per family to $5,000.
Setting the asset level too low works against families who are on fixed incomes or are trying to work their way out of poverty, Bryant explained. “It's a huge disincentive to save” a bit of money for emergencies, she said.
If the Broad-Based Categorically Eligible policy is eliminated, the asset limit could drop back to $2,250, and thousands of Hoosiers could be dropped from SNAP. Some children could lose automatic eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals as well.
But those Hoosiers would still be just as hungry, and that, in turn, would put more pressure on already challenged private food agencies to provide even more assistance to those who need it.
All this to smoke out those rogue millionaires?
There's plenty of time to register a comment on the proposed rule change (see above) or to contact this area's congressional representatives and ask that they weigh in on the decision.